The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 14
(Part 5 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
State Attorney Bar-Or: One more question, Mr. Grynszpan. After this correspondence, the letters you were receiving from Hershel, stopped: did you make any efforts, did you try, during the War - and after the War - to find him, to get in touch with him?

Witness M. Grynszpan: When I crossed the border from Poland to Russia, that was in Bialystok. I wrote a letter...

Presiding Judge: When was that?

A. That was some time in 1940, in January-February. I wrote a letter to the Red Cross. And I received - this is the reply of the Red Cross. This is the letter I received. The answer is on the other side. Against the light one can see it.

Q. You pasted the answer?

A. Yes, my father did, it was already torn.

Q. From here you can see a signature. Is it yours? Whose is it?

A. It is the address of my brother, from prison.

Q. And who wrote it? Do you know the handwriting?

A. No.

Q. You cannot tell whose handwriting it is?

A. No.

Q. This is what you received in 1940?

A. This is what I received - in 1940.

Q. In 1940. And afterwards?

A. I wrote in '40 and got the reply in '40.

Q. And afterwards?

A. And afterwards the Germans were already in France. And I did not wish to write any more, so that no letter of mine should fall into the hands of the Germans, that I was at all in touch with my brother. And I did not write any more. At the end of the war...

Presiding Judge: Where were you then, in Bialystok?

Witness M. Grynszpan: No, I had moved to Central Russia. I was in the Russian Army. At the end of the War I found my parents in Astrakhan, in Russia. They had been there all the time. I had also left them when I went into the Red Army. I got back to Poland. Immediately my task was to look for Hershel. I wrote to all the agencies that looked for missing relatives; and I received negative replies. I met in Paris - afterwards I went to Paris - there I met his lawyer, Fraenkel, Dr. Fraenkel...

State Attorney Bar-Or: May I, Mr. Grynszpan? I do not wish to overburden the Court with too much detail. My question was: did you succeed in finding any indication, any clue...?

A. Nothing. Nothing. I kept on looking. To this day. To this day. To this day I have found nothing. I wrote everywhere, I wrote letters to newspapers, I asked for it to be announced over the radio, and I have had no reply to this day. To this day I have not had any.

Q. Were you the only one to do this, or were there any others in the family who helped?

A. Together with my family. And there were also some journalists who helped me.

Q. And all this to no avail?

A. Nothing.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Thank you.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, any questions to this witness?

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mr. Grynszpan. You have finished your testimony.

Who is the next witness?

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Benno Cohn.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: Your full name?

Witness Cohn: Benno.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Cohn, where and when were you born?

Witness Cohn: I was born in the Province of Posen, in Lobsens [Lobsenica] in 1894.

Q. When did you come to Germany after the First World War?

A. I had always been a German citizen. This was a province in the East of Germany.

Q. Yes, but you did not remain in the province of Posen?

A. At the tender age of nine months, I was taken by my parents from Posen, which they left, to Beuthen in Upper Silesia; then to Breslau, then I went to Berlin. From 1922 onwards I lived in Berlin.

Q. Where did you study?

A. I went to school, to the secondary school in Breslau and later I went to the University of Breslau where I studied Law.

Q. Did you finish your law studies in Breslau?

A. I did complete my law studies there, and later on I did my practical legal training (Referendar).

Q. That too in Breslau?

A. Yes.

Q. You were called to the Bar in Germany, were you not? When was that?

A. In 1925. Shortly before that I served as an assistant to the district attorney at the Breslau Court.

Q. When did you leave Breslau?

A. In 1922. That was when I moved to Berlin.

Q. You started working as a lawyer?

A. Yes, I started working in 1925.

Q. Until which year?

A. In fact until 1933. I remained registered on the Roll of Advocates until 1938, even after Jews had been struck off the Roll; but I was a lawyer only de jure during these last few years. I had seen service on the front, and that was why I was granted that privilege. I had been a soldier in the First World War.

Q. In the German Army?

A. In the German Army.

Q. And that is why you were allowed to remain on the Roll of Advocates till 1938?

A. Yes, as a matter of form.

Q. But in fact you acted as a lawyer only up to 1933?

A. Yes, except for some very few briefs that I accepted.

Q. You were active in public life in Berlin?

A. Yes, I was active in Jewish and Zionist public life all my life.

Q. Could you please tell the Court what happened regarding your activity in Jewish public life in Berlin from 1933 onwards.

A. In 1933. I had, before then already made up my mind to go on Aliyah (immigration to Palestine). I had already been there in 1925 and had come back. In 1933 I had, then a veteran Zionist, decided to go on Aliyah. But when I saw the situation that was developing, the lack of manpower, the state of despair most Jews in Germany were in, this new situation, I decided to stay on there and to devote my work and my efforts to Jewish, to Zionist activity.

Q. Mr. Cohn, when you speak about the circumstances that had arisen, about despair - what event are you referring to in particular?

A. To the early weeks and months after the Nazis had come to power.

Q. When was that?

A. The 30th of January 1933. It was quiet before then. The event that upset everybody, and changed the situation from top to bottom, was the burning of the Reichstag. Then, on the morrow, all the Rights of Man, the civil rights, were taken away. There began mass arrests. There was no more Rechtsstaat (government by rule of law) but rather a Unrechtsstaat (government by rule of lawlessness). That was the signal, that was the start, for this new era.

Q. Where were you situated during those months?

A. I was in a law office. I also appeared in court, in civil cases in particular. But then I was elected chairman of the Zionist Organization in Berlin; therefore I spent much of my time in the offices of the Zionist Organization in Berlin.

Q. Where were they?

A. At no. 10, Meinecke Street.

Q. And they remained there until when?

A. They remained there until the liquidation of the Jewish institutions in Germany. But that I only know from hearing about it. It is hearsay.

Q. I did not ask that. In any case they remained at Meineke Street until you yourself left the office?

A. Yes, certainly.

Q. Were you there all the time?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you have any special duties in the Zionist Organization in Berlin during this period?

A. Yes. I was chairman, honorary chairman of the Berlin branch of the Zionist Organization; and afterwards I automatically became involved in Zionist activity and also in the activities of the Palaestina-Amt (Palestine Office). There were at that time long queues of people lining up in front of the gates at Meineke Street, seeking help and advice. They came, and automatically one became active and worked, we all worked, our whole team was at work day and night to help the Jews.

Judge B. Halevy: Excuse me. You said "The burning of the Reichstag." When? What date?

Witness Cohn: On 27 February 1933. On the morrow of that event all civil rights were annuled by the Verordnung des Reichspraesidenten zum Schutze von Volk und Staat.

Interpreter: Decree promulgated on 28 February 1933 by the President of Germany for the protection of the People and the State.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Now, Mr. Cohn, you mentioned twice, or three times, the situation that had arisen, the queues, the life of the Jews. How did you see the situation in those days, from your point of view?

Witness Cohn: In principle? Or in practice?

Q. In practice. I refer to 1933.

A. Even before the first of April, when the arrests began, news reached us about arrests on a massive scale, Einzelaktionen (actions against individuals) not only against politicians, members of the Reichstag; but in particular in small towns and in medium size towns, a considerable number of people were arrested, certainly without any grounds; and among them were also rank and file Jews; among the Jews there were Rabbis, Jewish leaders, shopowners. Many Germans denounced competitors in order to get rid of them. They were sent to concentration camps. They came back, in those early months, if they returned at all, as broken men.

I remember the first harrowing scenes when there flocked to our Palestine Office women who had been sent through the post the ashes of their husbands who had perished in concentration camps, accompanied by a short letter: "Ihr Mann ist an einem Herzschlag im Lager gestorben. Die Urne anbei, per Nachnahme MK 3,50."

Interpreter: Your husband has died in the camp of a heart attack. Herewith the urn - C.O.D. 3.50 Mark.

State Attorney Bar-Or: You have mentioned the Palaestina- Amt, the Palestine Office.

Witness Cohn: I was also a member of the Executive.

Q. Yes. Perhaps you would care to explain precisely what that was.

A. There was a division of labour between the Zionist Organization on the one hand which did the work of Zionist information, propaganda and all that; and the Palestine Office was in charge of Jewish immigration to Palestine, the distribution of the "certificates" [Government of Palestine permits to enter Palestine] allotted to us, and of all matters relating to immigration to Palestine.

Q. Anyone who wanted to go to the Palestine in those years, had to apply...

A. that office.

Q. which was in Meineke Street?

A. Meineke Street No. 10.

Q. Did the office have branches throughout Germany?

A. Yes. In 1933, I travelled all over Germany together with my friends, we set up branches of our office in most German towns in order to ease the burden of the central office in Berlin.

Q. I would now ask you to cast your mind back to 1 April 1933. What can you tell the Court about that day?

A. May I perhaps say something about what happened prior to that?

Q. Please do.

A. In March a committee was set up in New York, composed of Jews and non-Jews, presided over by Rabbi Stephen Wise, one of the greatest personalities of American Jewry, and declared a boycott on German goods. This was a reaction to what had happened in Germany, to the attack on German Jewry, to the detentions, the destructions, the concentration camps and all the horrors I have already referred to. As a reaction thereto, Julius Streicher who was - if I am not mistaken - at that time Gauleiter of Franken (Franconia) declared a boycott of German Jewry up to the complete liquidation of the businesses of the Jews, of the "Jewish Race," as he used to put it. And he said that was being done after consultations with Hitler, Goebbels and Goering. This is what happened prior to this.

On Friday - that fateful day in our history of our people was a Sabbath, Friday evening - I heard two speeches, as did most of the Jews in Germany and most of the German people, two most inflammatory speeches, in a vituperative and denigrating style, delivered if I am not mistaken, by Goebbels or by Goering or by both. I am not sure which of them made that speech. And at the end there came a surprise. The boycott was restricted to one day only. They, the instigators of this boycott, wanted to test its outcome: would World Jewry surrender and call off their boycott of German goods? If not, new decisions would be taken.

On Saturday, that first Black Day - there was to be many more black days in the annals of our era - on that Sabbath I toured the streets of the city of Berlin for four to five hours; I got to almost all the sectors of the city; I didn't go by public transport or by car. I walked on foot through this big city and I saw this picture which at that time shocked us so terribly. On every shop - on my own name-plate "Benno Cohn, Rechtsanwalt an den drei Landgerichten" (Advocate at the three District Courts) there was a red label which read Jude. I added the words "Gott sei Dank" (Thank God) but that is only by the way. On shopwindows I saw all the slogans.

Q. Perhaps you can remember some of them?

A. Yes. The swastika - Hakenkreuz - and the slogans Juda verrecke; Achtung Lebensgefahr; Juden 'raus; Achtung Itzig; Auf nach Palaestina, Einbahnstrasse nach Jerusalem; and others like that.

Interpreter: Judah perish - Beware! Danger to life - Beware! Itzig! - Get out: to Palestine! One-way street to Jerusalem!

Witness Cohn: That lasted till nightfall. The next day it was called off. On the next day the previous situation was re-established.

State Attorney Bar-Or: And the boycott was called off?

Witness Cohn: And the boycott was called off; but it was explicitly stated: temporarily. It wasn't renewed, at any rate not in this manner, during subsequent events.

Q. What was the impression among the Jewish population?

A. The impact was most depressing. Most German Jews were imbued with German culture, they had been raised in the classics of German literature. They could not believe this had happened. They could not believe it had happened to them. Very close ties linked those Jews with the German people. At that time the Zionist movement was in a minority in Germany. If I am not mistaken, only some five per cent of Jews in Germany were Zionists in 1933. They did not want to believe what had happened all around them, that this cultured ancient German people, which they had always regarded as being one of the cultured peoples, had resorted to these means.

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